Nite Club Confidential -- The 1950s had some musical high points that didn't involve Elvis and Jerry Lee, and those are captured to some degree in this mildly pleasant show at Kalliope Stage. A couple dozen lounge tunes are draped on a rickety storyline, which follows Sinatra wannabe Buck (a game but ultimately uncharismatic Steve Parmenter) as he tries to weasel his way into showbiz stardom. Schmoozing with fading chanteuse Kay Goodman (Trudi Posey in a Norma Desmondish turn) and crooning with his buddies Mitch, Sal, and Dorothy, Buck flits from one nightclub to another, searching for the big break. The show is dominated by the original songs of its creators, Dennis Deal and Albert Evans, with a few Johnny Mercer classics sprinkled throughout. And some of those original tunes work nicely, such as "The Long Goodbye," sung with rueful sadness by Kay. In a mostly workmanlike cast, Liz O'Donnell is particularly sharp and funny as Dorothy, a young singer on the rise, and Charles Statham's Mitch ignites a couple laughs with physical humor. Director Paul F. Gurgol has sport with the faux-noir tone of the work, but a dull Sal (Mark Ludden) and a weak premise make this highball less than fully intoxicating. Through December 9 at the Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Christine Howey
Pack of Lies -- There are falsehoods aplenty in this play by Hugh Whitemore. Based on a real spy case in 1960s Britain, it traces the story of Barbara and Bob Jackson, simple London suburbanites who are suddenly thrust into a cold-war espionage dust-up. The intrigue involves their best friends and neighbors of five years, Helen and Peter Kroger, who, unbeknown to the Jacksons, are KGB agents. In the first act, the playwright fashions a credible friendship between the Jacksons and the Krogers, who claim to be from Canada. Helen Kroger, boisterous and effusive, is the flip side of placidly passive Barbara, but it's easy to see how the two could forge a bond of trust and confidentiality. But that connection is ripped asunder when Stewart, a Brit intelligence officer, arrives to set up a stakeout in the Jacksons' house, where he and his minions can spy on the spies across the street. By intercutting dialogue scenes with mini-soliloquies from various characters, Whitemore creates a fascinating portrait of a quiet, predictable life gone horribly wrong. Director Greg Cesear brings beautifully modulated performances out of his talented cast. This subtle play goes beyond its international-spy-thriller trappings to ask a profound question: Is real friendship based on truth or appearances? And are we better off not knowing? Presented by Cesear's Forum through December 9 at Kennedy's Down Under, 1518 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
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